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April 2nd 1917 - Letter from Cyril Sladden to his father, Julius Sladden

2nd April 1917
Correspondence From
Cyril Sladden
Correspondence To
Julius Sladden, Seward House, Badsey
Relationship to Letter Addressee
Text of Letter

April 2nd 1917


My dear Father


I am present having quite a peaceful sort of time sitting on the riverside. I am in charge of a separate post, the headquarters of the regiment being at the next post upstream. We have been here nearly a week and are very well content to be left here for some time to come.


Now that the operations around Kut are becoming ancient history, and the Turks are never likely to see that part of Mesopotamia again, I think it is possible to give you a rather more coherent idea of the general course of the fighting there, and our share in it in particular, than has been possible before.


In order to do this I have drawn a sketch map of the area marking some of the chief features, and also a number of points that we were specially concerned with from time to time. In this country the only way of describing places is by a system of lettered pointed, inserted as found convenient by the map designers, and constantly increased in number. They are placed generally at intersections of trenches, mullahs and foot-tracks, and are generally very hard indeed to locate in practice.


The position before the offensive started was this. On the left bank we were face to face with the enemy at Sannaiyat, a narrow and extremely strong position lying between the river and the extensive Suwaikeh Lake. The trench lines entered on the map are only diagrammatic and all represent Turkish positions that already existed early in the course of operations. Sannaiyat had more than three lines of defence really. On the right bank we were at no point in touch with the enemy, who withdrew in May last, knowing that without use of the river for communication we could not follow him up very far. During the summer the light railway from Sheikh Saad was constructed, and we occupied Magaris and Imam al Mansur (Imam is a mosque) as our foremost outposts.


Dec 13th found a large force assembled at Sinn Abtar, whence we marched at evening to Imam al Mansur; from that point a further march began in the small hours of the morning, bringing us at dawn on the 14th to the point Q3. A force pushing on at dawn crossed the Hai without opposition at Atab. The Hai at this time was so nearly dry as not to be a continuous stream, and was therefore practically no obstacle to infantry or cavalry. A force of both arms crossed and established a defensive line some distance out to secure the crossing, the cavalry working up past Bassonia on the right bank. (It has to be remembered that the Hai flows out of and not into the Tigris). Meanwhile the force I was with pushed on to the Hai, striking it at S7, and then in skirmishing order pushed up the left bank, where the few old trenches that were there turned out to be empty. We spent the night in roughly dug trenches round about R12. Our right was protected by a line stretched out towards Magaris.


On the 15th we were pushed on in the direction of the loop of trenches between the Hai and Tigris, known generally as the Hai bridge-head defences, as the Hai was bridged previously to our attack up near to Kut. This bridge was promptly removed, as also was the one over the Tigris near M30 which was placed up above the fort at Shumrun.


The detail of our advance on the15th I have described in earlier letters. We were put in at the last minute to close a gap between the frontages of two brigades, and were some 1000 yards from the Hai. The ground close to the Hai was covered with low bushwood, ours was bare. As a result the line got a bit wrecked, lagging on the left, which caused us when we got up into the alignment from the left to be the nearest to the Turk's line. The people on our right never got level with us, moreover out there the enemy trench began to curve back away from us. For a night and a day we remained there improving our position, and were relieved at midnight next night. We found that on the 16th the other two companies of the regiment had gone across with other troops to the right back of the Hai to secure ground there which the cavalry had previously been across without holding it, crossing about a mile or less south of Kala Haji Fahan. We joined them, and on the 17th were the right of a big loop line curling down southwards towards Bursonia. That evening we got orders to push forward up the river, the troops on our left making a swinging movement bringing us up to the line of the mullah P22-P27; this was carried out with practically no opposition, though just where we were on the river there was some difficulty. On the following morning the enemy snipers awoke to the situation and were rather troublesome, though a few days were sufficient to enable us to get the better of them by stern treatment. On the early morning of the 20th, the two companies, C & D, who had the fighting on the 15th, and had had no rest since, went back to reserve close to brigade headquarters near R19. Our rest was not to come immediately, for we were ordered that afternoon to move out some two miles to be ready if required to escort some guns on a long march out westwards. This job was fortunately not required, and we only had an unsettled and cold night, returning to R19 in the morning. The operations which occasioned this little manoeuvre was a bold project to cross the Tigris at the southern end of the next bend above Shumrun, carried out by cavalry and infantry. Apparently the scheme was abandoned owing to the opposition being fund too great; the crossing was never seriously started at all.


When our return to R19 we busied ourselves digging dug-outs, first for ourselves and then for the rest of the battalion who remained in the trenches at P22 until the 26th when they joined us. However C & D Companies were detached again almost at once. It had been decided to withdraw the defensive line running south of P27 so that it would follow roughly the line of the mullah P19, R17, R22. This relieved troops and lessened the labour of transport; also the ground in front looked like becoming a regular marsh in case of the weather turning wet, and for some days we had had a good deal of rain. We took over this new line, which was partially dug, near Q17, the withdrawal from in front of us being carried out during the night 29th-30th. Immediately afterwards the remainder of the battalion joined us and we were rearranged in the line, and settled down to work at building a good permanent line of defence, with due regard to the requirements of safety and comfort. The enemy showed himself scarcely at all, and we patrolled regularly by day and night far out in front.


During this period which lasted until Jan 11th and was about the most restful we had during the whole operations, the chief centre of activity on the front was the bend of the river at Mohammed Abdul Hassan. The original line from Magaris had been swung forward in company with our advance up the Hai, and without serious opposition was advanced up to the Turkish trenches at that bend. Further south contact was made with the Tigris for some length just south-east of Kut, which thus closed in the Turks in two bends on either side, where they became dependant upon communication by boats across the river. The clearing of the M Abdul Hassan bend was a troublesome job as the ground was covered with scrub, making observation difficult for the guns; it was completed abut the 18th, a very useful force being liberated when that was complete.


Immediately upon removal from one comfortable defensive line Q17 we were set to work preparing for an assault on each bank of the Hai, where our lines were about half a mile at the nearest from the enemy front line - though he had many well concealed snipers pits in front of his line. We returned again to our old position in front of Kali Kaji Fahan. Our preparation consisted in digging forward a number of communication trenches, and connecting them across to form new firing lines, which were then advanced further in the same way. Finally when digging across became too expensive long saps were pushed out forward without further joining. In this way we made a front line which was about 350 yards from the Turkish line, the sap heads being 100 to 150 yards further forward. Besides the gain of ground this supplies numerous trenches where the attacking troops will be able to collect. The work is very trying, digging parties having to work every night for long spells, and always under fire, while covering parties lie out in the open in front of them to protect them.


The same process was carried out alongside us on the other bank of the Hai, but opposition was never nearly so severe there.


The assault was planned for the 24th, but postponed 24 hours owing to heavy rain which made communication very difficult for a short time. The plan was to take and hold all the enemy front line on the east side of the Hai, while we and one other battalion had about 400 yards frontage only to take. On the other bank they got there and stopped there without any casualties. We got there, but the left was never secure, and subjected to bombing attacks in several directions. Also the enemy had got some machine gun post away to our left which caused heavy losses to all lines that crossed over the top. A good many men came back as the result of the bombing attack at midday, but more were sent over, though they got too far to the right where they were not wanted, and still left the left very weak. A strong attack from that flank in the evening rolled our line up gradually, and we were turned out. During the night we were relieved by entirely fresh troops and went back to the old reserve lines at R14, during which relief a strong counter attack on the other side of the Hai was repelled. During the 25th our artillery pounded the Turks almost continually and caused them very severe losses. Our losses were pretty bad too. Next morning the attack was renewed, and the trouble from our left dealt with. Also two lines instead of one were entered. The Turks though heavily knocked still fought hard and eventually we remained inn possession of one line, with which connection was made next night by two good communication trenches. After these two first days the Turks never showed the same resistance, but the position was still taken only by degrees; progress however was continuous if slow. On the other side where there never was the same trouble the Turks were cleared out almost entirely by Feb 2nd, after which the remainder evacuated.


On this day a plan was started for clearing the enemy entirely from the Dahra bend, that is the south loop between the Hai and the east side of the Shumran bend. We, who had spent the intervening week in reorganising, went out towards P27 on the night of the 2nd, while other troops were pushed forward towards the south end of the Shumran bend, digging themselves in in a series of posts at intervals. The scheme as originally designed worked badly, and was given up, all the advanced posts being withdrawn to the line we had taken up at P27. There was a mullah running forward to N47a which was a post occupied by the Turks. We pushed a picket forward about half way towards them, and soon decided that it would be a good thing to turn them out, which we accomplished in a very satisfactory little show on the afternoon of the 5th. This pleased the higher command, being a move in the direction they wanted. From N47a we could see that the mullah went on to another post which the Turks clearly held at N47, We were instructed to repeat our previous success the ideal being that after taking N47 we should work along a long communication trench to some more trenches at N46. During the 9th we accomplished the whole ideal with very little loss in another very satisfactory show. Then other troops were brought up to N40 further to the right, and relieved us at N46 connecting up these points.


It was now clear that our mullah led to the river. For about one day some snipers remained within fairly close range, but they withdrew and a patrol on the 11th almost reached the river finding a few Turks close to M32. That night another regiment found the way clear to the river along the M30 mullah which they occupied. Next morning we pushed up to the river at M32, the Turks having left in the night. The enemy thus became completely enclosed, and the belt which we held was of such breadth as to be reasonably secure. The operation from P27 to M32 had been a very extraordinary one; during the whole period we were exposed in almost every direction and could never have stated exactly what our front and flanks were.


During this period the advance up the Hai had gradually been pushed on, and by the 12th the Liquorice Factory was in our hands, and the enemy had dug fresh lines of defence right across to the Shumran Road, his communication being now entirely by boat across the Tigris. He was vigorously attacked and finally on the 15th a big attack all along the line broke up his force entirely, only a small fraction escaping. On that afternoon we advanced upstream from the M32 mullah to the M33 mullah, turning out a strong force who were holding it; cavalry operating out on the left flank assisted, and in the evening another regiment took over from us, while we remained in our old position as reserve. The advance upstream was pushed on to the Naki al Marrag, but a tremendous storm on the evening of the 16th temporarily put a stop to all movement. On the evening of the 18th we moved into M33 mullah, still in reserve.


It soon became known that the attempt to cross the Tigris was to be made close to where we were. The first attack at Sannaiyat, designed to draw the enemy reserves in that direction, had been made on the 17th, but we had been unable to hold a footing there. Probably the move had the desired effect of attracting reserves.


The crossing was finally arranged for dawn of the 13rd. The attack at Sannaiyat was repeated on the 22nd and this time we held two lines. At dawn next morning the boats parked across between M33 and M32, and at another point a little below M30. From our picket post on the river at M33 we could watch the whole proceeding. The crossing near us caught the enemy napping and was carried out very successfully. The one down river was more seriously opposed, and only just managed to secure a footing. A pontoon bridge began immediately to be built close to M32, troops being rowed across continuously all the while. An advance at midday progressed about half up the bend and before evening the crossing was pretty well secured, and the bridge complete. Meanwhile further progress at Sannaiyat was made, and we all knew it was the end of everything for the Turks around Kut. A continuous stream of troops poured across the bridge and next morning the advance was pushed on and the whole area of the bend occupied. The Turks were now clearing away as fast as possible from the whole left bank of the Tigris, and we were strongly held at Shumrun to enable them to get away. In the morning of the 25th they had got away and the advance up river began against an enemy well defeated and broken.


This is as far as I will carry the story. It has taken me until April 9th to finish it, during which various things have happened and I have moved a pretty long way. I will write more of it in my next letter home.


Best love from

Your affectionate son

Cyril E Sladden

Includes hand-drawn map and pencilled note saying "Not for publication of course".
Type of Correspondence
Envelope containing 7 sheets of notepaper
Location of Document
Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service
Record Office Reference